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Team building: The ultimate love/hate

Team building: The ultimate love/hate

Corporate team building. Three little words that probably have managers nodding in smug contentment, and employees breaking out in a cold sweat.


August 10, 2010 4:14 by

According to a new press release, over 50 percent of companies in the Middle East are seeking to adopt corporate team building solutions in the post-economic crisis period. The release says it’s all in pursuit of “up to 20 percent savings in operating costs” and “competitive advantage within the post-economic crisis business landscape.”

Actually, as it turns out, this is a bit of a willful misinterpretation of the figures. One survey said 54 percent of employers in the Middle East want their employees to be teamwork-oriented, and another study revealed that regional companies can save up to 20 per cent in operating costs when teams are strong and aligned with business objectives. So, a fairly liberal interpretation of those results, then. But it did raise for me the horrifying prospect of mass team building escapes taking place across the region.

There can be few issues in modern professional life more divisive than corporate team building activities. You either love them or hate them, and it has to be said that the dividing line tends to fall between management and the masses. And the HR department, of course.

Managers and HR love team building. Even the phrase itself is pro-active. It’s one of the clear active steps you can take to help boost your organisation without actually doing anything in the work place. It also exports the responsibility for forging a cohesive unit to an outside agency – handy, as that’s a big responsibility.

On the other hand employees, for the most part, tend to despise it. Think about it: You take a collection of people who have nothing in common, save for the fact they work in the same place, you put them through a series of often embarrassing, always rehearsed exercises designed to teach them something about their jobs that in actual fact bear very little relevance to what they do. All of this takes place away from the office, necessitating a lost day of work that will have to be made up by said employee on their return. It’s hardly a recipe for popularity. It’s also worth noting that often, the bosses don’t even show up for the event, thus fostering resentment and anger amongst staff.

Jared Sandberg of the Wall Street Journal hit nicely on the problems of corporate team building a couple of years ago in his article “Can Spending a Day Stuck to a Velcro Wall Help Build a Team?” According  to Sandberg, it’s easy to do team-building poorly, and even easier to think it went really well.

Sandberg spoke to both team-building organizers and participants, and found a typical mixed bag of opinions. What was striking was, even those who were positive about the exercises often failed to acknowledge any professional benefit. As Margaret Neale, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, told Sandberg, “They make us feel good. What they don’t do is improve team performance.”

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